The two thirds slump

Every project I have ever worked on big, small, simple or complex has had one of these

Amazingly, the project management books don’t mention it, most websites ignore it and I’ve never seen it on any project management course syllabus but for all that it’s a real phenomenon that can be upsetting and destructive.

So what is the slump?

It’s a general listlessness, frustration, depression or general sense of negativity that settles on a project. It results in arguments, lacklustre performance and extended deadlines. It’s destructive and annoying and at its worst it threatens the very viability of your project.

People tend to get angry and there will be spats and full blown arguments. If you’re really unlucky a fist fight will ensue but that’s a rarity thank goodness!

But overall the project will tend to suffer because people who are happy work better. People who are unhappy don’t.

What causes it?

When you start off a project everything is new. People are all enthused and every day is a discovery. Sure there are challenges but there’s loads of low hanging fruit to grab.

The problem of course is that team members get addicted to achieving. They expect everything to be easy and when something isn’t then it gets put on a back burner until later. Unfortunately later turns up, usually at about the two thirds mark. The team isn’t having as many successes as it once had and every task is a slog. It gets old really quickly.

The project sponsor is probably a high achiever. They are in demand and when the project launches it is the most important thing in their to do list. After a while though other things come along. These things distract their attention and they drift away, if not physically then certainly mentally. The team then isn’t getting the attention it needs or deserves.

Finally people start to forget where they have come from. It’s a natural human trait but we tend to forget what things used to be like. It often manifests itself as rose tinted spectacles, but on a project it typically turns up as people forgetting all the great work their team has done and focusing on the remaining issues.

What can you do about it?

Well for a start employ an experienced project manager. A good PM will have seen this before so it won’t come as a surprise and just like a good football manager he’ll realise that some people will need a kick, some an arm round the shoulder but all the team will need attention and re-energising.

Next – get the project sponsor involved. They don’t have to do a lot but one thing they do need to do is to provide energy and enthusiasm for a vital company project. Get them to reaffirm how important this is to the company and what a great job the team have done.

Keep a success log. Make sure it’s visible and review it regularly. It will help your team to remember what they have already achieved in the project so far and how well they have done.

Make sure that everyone keeps their eyes on the prize. Especially in smaller companies there will be pressure on peoples time and priorities. Ensure that the whole company understands why this is so important to the firm.

Have a non project day. Ban everyone from working on the project, close it down for just a day and if the budget will stretch have an event. Only one rule – no project talk.

Lastly don’t give up. The project was a good idea at the start, a good idea last month and just because there have been a few bumps along the way it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea now. Push on through and before long you’ll find that actually you’re nearer the end than you thought!

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